Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Season Preview on Pitchers & Catchers Report Day

First off, Happy Valentine's Day, folks, welcome to Spring Training (pitchers & catchers report today!) and a huge congratulations to the E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!!! First-time Superbowl Champions! The turn-around is remarkable: we all know what Chip did to Howie and the 7-9 record that year and so on. Two years later, Superbowl Champs! Wow! A key factor, after getting rid of the older players Chip brought in, was getting those on rookie contracts to perform: Nelson Agholor being the biggest example - the Phillies' version is Maikel Franco. And I just have to say, as a Mummer, thank you, Jason Kelce! What a speech, too! It is also a great time to be a sports fan in Philly: Flyers have at least one point in each game since and the Sixers have won each of their games - and are on-pace for a few wins over .500. That puts them in the playoffs. And the Phillies have made a splash at 1B and the bullpen, have a new manager (that many questioned - like Doug Peterson) & coaches, and - most important- finished the last 76 games at .500.

Story Lines in Spring
  1. Maikel Franco needs to pull an Agholor and rebound
  2. Prospects like Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn (injury history), and Eschelman have an outside shot at making the roster. Quinn is on the 40-man and Kingery & Eshelman are not. Factoring in injuries, a short bench, and delaying free agency, it's looking like these guys will be sent to AAA but it won't take long to see these guys in the bigs, especially if they make a good impression in Spring & in the first month at AAA.
  3. Bench: Altherr and Williams will be OF #3 & 4. The second spot is back-up catcher and that's between Rupp's $2MM salary or Knapp's brilliant 2017 performance - or both. Fourth is the utility position and versatility is needed here: Florimon can play left side plus some OF; Quinn can play all three OF positions; Tommy Joseph could still end up here if he shows he can pinch hit under low playing time but not likely.
  4. And not to be outdone, it'll be our first in-game impression of Gabe Kepler. Can he and his staff be the next Doug Pederson (Eagles were more than the sum of their parts) or at least meet my 90% rule? We'll see.

    Gabe said two things yesterday: I agree that this team can surprise if they make strides and that the goal has to be NL East. However, realistically, this team will end up at 78 through 84 wins and short of the postseason. It takes - historically - quite a bit more for a wild card and probably a lot more for the division. He can mention those from time to time especially in his Spring speeches, but ultimately his focus will have to shift to ensuring that individuals take those steps forward.
Season Story Lines

Most important:

  1. Can the Phillies continue their success from July 12th on?
  2. Can they create leads despite a young rotation, deficiencies in defense?
  3. Can that rotation get through the first 21 batters relatively unscathed (4 R or less)? I'd like to see the depth evolve in Spring: Eschelman (AAA then MLB) vs. Pivetta (6 ERA last yr) is my biggest wonder. Lively had the best performance in 15 games last year but a low K-rate; Leiter (bullpen probably), Eflin (injuries), Thompson (BB-rate)... Velasquez gets one more shot & Eickhoff did well before battling injuries. Can they survive 162-games? Can the offense, too? It's a long season (sorry, cliche!)!
  4. And can a revamped bullpen hold leads?
They have an easy schedule the first half, playing the Mets, Braves, Marlins & four against the Orioles (the latter two projecting as 100-loss teams). As I said in previous posts, game 54 is a good checkpoint: standings, AAA team, record and - for Kepler - record in 1-run games.

One more story line that would be cool is awards: Nola could get Cy Young. Crawford, Kingery, Alfaro and perhaps Lively, Eshelman, etc. could be RoY. And Nola, Williams, Herrera, Altherr, Hoskins, or Santana could be MVP. We have bounceback and bullpen award candidates too. Obviously, if the team doesn't contend, we will see no MVP and most awards will not go to Phillies. Nola's Cy Young is perhaps the most likely (especially if 18 wins for him or more!) followed by a RoY - at least seeing votes. If they do contend or put on a fight til the [near] end, Gabe K & Matt K could be manager/ executive of the year.

We shall see... go Phillies!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Maikel Franco, Geritt Cole

Franco was suspended by the Dominican team for one game for partying too long: he and three others stayed at a party into the morning hours on a game day. Despite this and even despite his recent $2MM payout form 2018, I'm sure this is the last year for him to show he deserves to stay as his numbers the last three years haven't lived up to the .280 avg in his short rookie year (80 games due to May call-up & HBP injury).

The Pirates traded Gerritt Cole to the World Champs Astros for four MLB- or AAA-level prospects, including the Astros' #5 & #13 prospects. The trade market is set. While the Phillies could have topped this trade, I agree with PhilliesNation.com that only two years of team control could have turned them off. Rays' Archer and others mentioned as trade candidates are controlled for 3 years or more, which is more ideal to the Phillies.

Honoring The Past, Possibly The Future

There are two ways the Phillies honor their players and coaches: Wall of Fame and retiring numbers. A player can be eligible on the WoF if they spent four years on the team (sometimes called the Thome rule). They can honor individuals or a group of players. As for retiring numbers, the Phillies adopt MLB guidance as policy: Hall of Famers only. Considering the team lost 10,160 games in its history along with that policy and it's no surprise they retired only 5 players (three wore numbers), remembering that 42 (Jackie Robinson) is retired by MLB & doesn't count toward the Phillies' five. So how should they honor the 2005-2012 teams that went 727-569 (.561) with five NL East titles, two pennants, and a World Championship?

I do have to start in the past: while these two did not contribute to the NL East dynasty, they deserve recognition through retirement. player, manager, coach and special assistant Larry Bowa (#10) and slugger Dick Allen (#15), the latter having at least a RoY, good numbers, and - new stat - an avg. HR distance in the top three. He'll probably get in but that won't be for another 2-4 years.

Before I go into the top honors, I do think the policy should change. This would put retirement as top honors with individual WoF being second and team WoF being third but still a great honor.

This year will be the tenth anniversary of the 2008 World Championship -OR- 2008-2009 Pennants While some players from that team are still playing, I think the team can find a good time for those players to return for the unveiling of a plaque for that team, especially if Cole Hamels is the only one playing. Eventually, those that were on at least two but more likely three of the teams responsible for the NL East era will be honored on a team plaque. That would have to wait until at least next year, possibly 2020. Thanks to Pat Burrell and Charlie Manuel's individual WoF inductions, I, at least, can wait. And what an honor it would be to appear on both plaques let alone just one.

And back to retirement, here are those definitely deserving:
  • Manuel 41
  • Rollins 11 - longest-tenured Philly and #1 hits
  • Utley 26 - tenure and very high value (higher WAR than Howard or Rollins)
  • Ruiz 51 - tenure and the ability to block balls, call a game and later on, hit; also 4 no-nos caught!
  • Hamels 35 (obviously after he quits) - tenure, post-season MVP 2008, combined and CG no-nos
And here are those that won't be retired but will (or are) be on the WoF as individuals or part of the teams' honors:
  • Thome, 25 - 100+ HRs with the team
  • Halladay 34 - de facto retirement and individual WoF since he had the no-hitters & 2nd Cy Young w/ Phila. and he's probably going to the Hall next ballot. Rest in Peace and thank you!!!
  • Rolen, 17 (uh oh - Hoskins!) - 7-yr tenure & RoY; good production overall
  • Werth, 28 - left too early but he was integral in getting us those pennants
  • Abreu, 53 - just like Rolen, led us to contention; like Allen, underrated (but Allen is more underrated); .921 OPS in NINE (9)! years with the Phillies.
  • Howard 6 - I don't advocate for retirement but individual WoF is probably a must. His OPS+ after signing the extension was ~95 close to league avg. We'd have accomplished lots less w/o him.
  • Lidge 54 - probably not but that 2008 season - wow!
  • Madson, 46 - tenure & 2008
  • Victorino 8 - tenure & 2008
  • Meyers, 39 - 2008-9
  • Blanton, 56 - probably not but that HR & win in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series!
  • Moyer, 50 - hometown kid, 2008, broadcaster
  • Stairs, 12 - 2008 NLCS HR, broadcaster, hitting coach
  • Lee, 33 - had he not been traded he'd have probably been in the definites!
  • Pat Burrell, 5 - #1 draft pick, 2008, etc.
  • Lopes, 15 - baserunning success (a rarity that I will recommend a coach)
  • Dubee, 30 - pitching coac
And those on the teams' WoF plaques not mentioned above: Madson, Oswalt, J.C. Romero, J Contreras,  Kendrick, P Feliz, P Polanco, W Valdez, J.A. Happ, C Durbin. Coaches: Thompson (H), Perlozzo (3B), Samuel (1B-3B), Dubee (P), Lopes (1B), Billmeyer (C, 'pen), and possibly Greg Gross (H). Obviously, Charlie Manuel will be at the top of both teams' WoF plaques.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Projecting the Win Total

The Phillies have been fairly active in signing players now that their coaching staff is set. They signed 1B  Carlos Santana to a 3-yr deal and added two two-year commitments to the bullpen: Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. They are now working on their biggest need: quality starting pitching. I am concerned but not yet worried. They'll find the guys they need. In the meantime, they will rely on the following to overcome any rotation issues: (1) adequate defense, (2) an already-was-good-but-now-bolstered offense, (3) two hitting coaches, (4) an 8-man bullpen, (5) sports science, and (6) a "no-rules clubhouse". Interesting. I'll discuss the coaches' influence, how the line-up & short bench will fair in the field and at the plate then discuss the pitching.

Coaches

As I previously discussed this is a relative unknown. I think that players' development this year will matter more than the staff although the coaches have to maximize player production. I think the staff will do well in that category. Another aspect is communication and Kepler has already met most of his players over the late fall, discussing their initial role with them. It's all on the players to run with the advice they get (I'm looking at you Maik). Therefore, I see the staff leading us to at least that 80-win mark probably slightly higher.

Offense/ Line-Up

C: All is good here offensively - this and 3B is weak but we have others to help there. Same with defense - blocked balls and throwing out base-stealers. As for calling a game, that is a weak point that could be addressed by Klentak through FA or trade. I give this position a pass overall.
1B - Santana: Wow, what a surprise that was! I like it: skills of a 3-hole hitter and a hot streak could put him at 2, 4 or 5!
2B: Hernandez for most of the year adding Kingery sometime during the first half. Looking good.
3B: This is a make-or-break year for Franco and he'll probably have to do it in more of a bench role than previous years. This is barely a pass but line-up depth will help.
SS: Galvis is gone so defense will take a slight hit but Crawford is the better overall player.
OF: The streaky Hoskins will get most of the playing time in left. Herrera stays in center. Altherr looks to get the bulk of the playing time as the fourth outfielder. Williams, Cozens, Quinn add depth but most of the PAs go to Rhys, Herrera and Altherr. Defense is ok in left, great in center (good work Odubel!), and decent in right. Injuries (Altherr, Quinn) and a four-man bench will allow for adequate playing time for all the OFs plus one could still be traded. Also, if Cozens doesn't start decreasing his strike-out rate, he'll end up racking up the ~$4 one-way tolls on the NE Extension.

Post-AS-Break, the RPG was 4.77 - that's just under 775 runs over 162 games! Not sustainable over a full season but the depth and skill should get them to at least 725 runs (just under 4.5 per game) - perfect! Defense WAR per Baseball-Reference last year was -3.5 runs. I only buy the minus and do think the fielding will be a tad worse than last year. Now, will the offensive production exceed the pitching ERA?

Bullpen

With 8 men here, so far so good. They will have to work at least 2-3, with an avg of at least 4, IP/game thanks to most of the back-end starters going 5 IP/start. I think this group, if used properly (MacKanin did not), can pitch to a 3.67 ERA.

Rotation

Nola will get the opportunity to pitch complete games although I think he'll only succeed 2-3 times this year. Velasquez will get one more shot in the rotation. I like Pivetta but he'll have to start in the minors. Eickhoff could bounce back. Eflin will get a shot. Lively is still in the mix. Most of those will only go two turns through the line-up before the 'pen takes over. If they show themselves capable then they'll probably get more but it'll be up to the 'pen to hold leads which I think we'll get. We add Eshelman to the mix and unlike many of the others, he'll be out there through that 3rd or 4th turn through the line-up. I'm looking forward to seeing his debut. I'd say the rotation is at 4.75 ERA now and 4.5 when they sign/ trade for guys.

The rotation will be out for 5.1-6.2 innings and the bullpen 3-5 - I assume 10 extra-inning games. Do the math, and overall pitching ERA is 4.3, which is under the offense RPG by ~0.2. The difference will likely be bigger!

Ultimate Conclusion

We're at around .500 w/ coaches, offense RPG > team ERA, defense is weak but balanced out by the offense. I'd say 83 wins. No division nor getting the wild card but being short of it by 3-5 games will be remarkable. Also, the Phillies (and other NL East teams) have a very weak schedule in the first half. If we don't take advantage, we're definitely going to struggle to make the postseason this year.

How do we take advantage? Win one-run games, which will really show the coaches' skill. When do I evaluate that? After game 54. If we're 2-above-.500 with no more than 8 one-run losses, I'll likely increase the win total. That's also a good benchmark for checking in with the AAA team (Kingery, Eshelman, etc.).

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Late Nov Update: Coaches, Roster

LATE-NIGHT UPDATE: A summary of the roster moves has been added to a post from late Sept: Off-Season Roster Projections.


The winter meetings have occurred and now that we've got through Thanksgiving and a baseball deadline, time for a Phillies update. Hope you had fun this past week! In this issue: most of coaching staff is set. First,  I discuss the final pre-Rule-5 40-man roster.

Here are the moves: Appel, Tirado & others cleared waivers; the DL'd players come back (as discussed in my early Nov update); the free agents are taken off (obviously); and they made at least one acquisition from the Giants, So, the 40-man is finalized with a full house. The Phillies cannot make a Rule 5 selection and must waiver-wire more players in order to sign some Free Agents. However, as I probably said before, trading guys (Franco, Joseph, Cozens, Quinn, Altherr, Galvis, Hernandez & other prospects in our system) will be how we'll fill our needs: bullpen, catching situation (Rupp), two bench players, and two No. 2 starters.

And here is the coaching staff:
  • Mgr: Gabe Kepler
  • Bench: NONE (pursuing Yankees bench coach)
  • Pitching: Rick Kranitz (most likely)
  • Bullpen: NONE
  • 1B/ Running: NONE (reunion with Lopes rumored)
  • 3B: Dusty Walthan
  • Hitting: John Mallee
  • Assistant Hitting: Pedro Guerrero
Other notes:
  • Catching coach & fielding instructors not yet announced but usually we see some doubling of coaches.
  • Only Herrera and Hamels' $9MM are guaranteed for next year, five are arb-eligible and 19 making the ML minimum (less than or ~$585k) = $26.12MM + arb, which will be ~$12MM = $38MM
  • Add in the coaches (10% or about another $12MM) and you get $50MM so far.
  • Low priority but long term extensions for P Garcia, P Nola, Hernandez, Altherr, and possibly 1-2 more hitters would be nice.
Now that the winter meetings are over, we'll see some movement in the coming weeks. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Go Phillies as always and now, I add the 10-1 Eagles and 11-8 Sixers. The young Flyers are looking like they're flying blind, sadly.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Goodbye Roy Halladay

We all know that the man was brilliant on the mound for most of his career. He was always 1st or 2nd to arrive at the ballpark. He ran at CBP when the Winter Classic was being set up. Perfect game. Playoff no-hitter. Dominant from '01-'11 with a Cy Young award in each league, a 2.98 ERA and 175 wins. He was a philanthropist and put his heart into it. Perfect season as head coach of his kid's baseball team. The list goes on and on. Thank you for the memories, Roy! Rest in peace.

Harry Leroy Halladay III - 1977-2017

Early Nov Offseason Update: Keepler, Roster

The Phillies spent a month and two rounds of interviews, hiring former Dodgers' Director of Player Development Gabe Kepler as manager of the next great Phillies era. He's a Chip Kelly type - sports science - but remember that Chip took a team that went 8-8 & 4-12 in back-to-back seasons into two-consecutive 10-6 seasons. It was his moves as "GM" that ruined it for him in Philly. Kepler is not my first choice, even for an outsider - decent player, not much success as a manager in A and no recent dugout experience. But when a team spends a month deciding, that tells you something. I think he won't hamper our players' development but is Kepler going to be able to win postseason series? I don't know. I'll give him 3 yrs. One thing is for sure, this is Klentak's decision and any blame will rest on his shoulders: his manager, his free agents.

Who will his coaches be? We've seen some unconventional names out there - Raul Ibanez (2009-2011) for instance. I think that Walthan will be on the staff and perhaps all current Phillies coaches except McClure for at least the 2018 season. There are two or three openings and possibly more - we saw the Phillies didn't have to double up when they had two hitting coaches and split Mick Billmeyer's duties a few years back. I think he'll bring in 3-4 to mingle with Walthan, Samuel, Morandini and I think Kranitz will become pitching coach.

Roster

Needs: Phillies will not spend yet but a big splash is possible - McPhail had said ownership wants us to explore every possibility, even a big signing or trade. However, we need two starting pitchers, a veteran for the 'pen (middle-late relief) and bench spots - particularly outfield depth. A trade or two of two or three of our infielders (Joseph, Franco, Galvis, Hernandez) or even some of our prospects (Quinn, Cozens) is the best way to go.

Current 40-Man: We have about a week to the pre-Rule-5-draft deadline and we're at ~41 after clearing out the 60-Day DL and free agents. We need to drop about 5 if we want to protect. I doubt we'll be able to do that. The only way we'll clear spots is if we can trade and the GM meetings could result in that but I wouldn't bet on anything major there, just early rapport amongst GMs and Free Agent players' agents.